Flags of Our Fathers Clint Eastwood

All props are due to 75-year-old director Clint Eastwood, who’s at the top of his game in creativity and technical ability, and is surpassing those in ambition, as evidenced by last year’s World War II-fer Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima, two sides of the same embattled coin. Flags was dangled as Oscar bait last September but it was the foreign language Letters that proved the tastier dish. Looking back at Flags, it’s not difficult to see why - where Letters gives Japanese soldiers honour but no hope, Flags gives Americans agita over the treatment of its so-called heroes. Though the image of six soldiers raising an American flag on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima became an enduring symbol of the American war effort, as the film reveals, its circumstances were entirely mundane, and in fact not even the moment of victory many supposed (it was raised, on the Southern tip of the island, on day five of an intense 40-day battle). Though three of those men would die on the island, the military yanked the other three (including one who wasn’t even in the photo) back Stateside to be propped up as the "heroes of Iwo Jima,” in order to hawk war bonds. The hypocrisy of these honours is hardest on Native American Ira Hayes (a spectacular Adam Beach), who succumbs to alcoholism and depression - that is, when he can even get served a drink in the towns that celebrate him as the "ultimate American.” Flags flips between Iwo Jima and the home side efforts but suffers from a lack of narrative focus and too much narration; in a classic bout of "Spielberg-ism,” Eastwood adds yet another layer, a child of one soldier who’s writing a book about the experience and who begins narrating, seemingly at random, halfway through the film. It adds yet another filter to a film that you really wish would just let you see these people up close. Clearly, DVD extras are on hold until Warner slaps these two together and showcases the crazy year Eastwood had making two major, accomplished films - and that, presumably, will be a package worth waiting for. (Paramount)